February 2024 Issue

Issa Barte On Amplifying Indigenous Voices And The Role Of Culture In Climate Action

D.D.DAILY tailored vest, THE NORTH FACE utility trousers at R.O.X., AIGLE rain boots. Photographed by Artu Nepomuceno for the February 2024 Issue of Vogue Philippines

Whether it’s planting six million trees or publishing a book co-authored by 600 indigenous youth, Issa Barte’s dreams become realities.

In her ideal world, Issa Barte would live atop a mountain, learning how to paint and dance. But only because in this future world, her job is finished. The Philippines would be decolonized. Indigenous communities wouldn’t need to fight for their land. Perhaps an Indigenous person is even president. Advocacy workers have become community workers. NGOs don’t exist. Because they don’t need to.

“I have dreams that change monthly,” Issa says. “But I know whatever I do will always be connected to community work. I feel like I’m delusional about the fact that there’s a better world for tomorrow, but I truly believe it.”

She refers to herself as “delulu” (slang for “delusional”) many times in conversation, but not quite as many as she expresses how she believes anyone can make a difference.

A National Geographic Explorer and co-founder of the youth-run organization For The Future, Issa is her own best case study. In 2019, she became a staunch advocate for reforestation, climate action, and culture change while working with indigenous communities all over the Philippines. Leaning on her background as a storyteller and visual artist, she created the capacity-building workshop “Stories from the Frontlines” in 2020. Funded by a National Geographic grant, it taught Indigenous youth from over six communities across the Philippines to tell stories through film.

Issa is the type of person who examines her life experiences measuring its growth and social impact. For her, counting trees on her 23rd birthday in the indigenous Yangil community in Zambales was the cornerstone of her path towards environmentalism.

“That’s where my world opened up,” Issa said. “I went tree-planting with friends. There was a group of 20 people and by the end of the afternoon, we planted 800 seedlings. I was like, ‘Oh my god, 800 new trees in one afternoon!’ It just clicked for me. If more and more people knew about it, then we’d have a whole forest by now. I couldn’t get that out of my mind. We could have millions and millions of trees. I feel like that possibility is what ignited my delulu about the world.”

Photographed by Artu Nepomuceno for the February 2024 Issue of Vogue Philippines

From that point on, nothing was impossible. “I went crazy talaga! I just kept thinking about six million trees, six million trees. If each of Nadine Lustre’s followers planted a tree, we could do it. Why can’t we have six million trees?” (For the Future eventually collaborated with the celebrity for a tree-planting mission.)

When I ask Issa what her latest delusion is, she replies simply: A cultural reawakening.

“[Working with Indigenous communities] has truly changed the way that I advocate for conservation. Before I would see land degradation and think, oh my gosh, that thing is something that we need to protect. But now I feel it in my heart. These experiences opened me up to seeing land as a friend.”

Her latest project is an attempt to bring that change in perspective to the rest of the country. The Philippine Youth Atlas is going to be the first-ever book of its kind, co-authored by over 600 children from 19 Indigenous communities in 17 regions across the Philippines. A testament, Issa says, to how our climate solutions exist already within our Indigenous heritage.

The goal is to document these solutions through art, photography, and counter mapping workshops with Indigenous youth; and finally, to create a symbol of determination based on the values of kaluluwa [soul], kalikasan [environment], ka- butihan [well-being], and kapwa [community]. In the end, the Atlas will be redistributed back to the communities and installed in Museo Pambata.

“[The concept of] kapwa has been my flaming heart. It’s changed my work and everything that we’re doing,” Issa says. “One of my friends from the Yangil tribe, I remember asking her what beauty was. I thought she would talk about skin or hair… that kind of stuff. But she said, ‘Beauty is waking up in the morning, and before I even open my eyes, I hear my birds singing because I planted this tree 10 years ago. That [even] when I hear the birds, I don’t want to open my eyes because I can smell my fruits.”

Vogue Philippines: February 2024 Issue


By Nina Unlay. Photographs by Artu Nepomuceno. Fashion Director: Pam Quiñones. Beauty Editor: Joyce Oreña. Stylists: Renee de Guzman, Roko Arceo. Makeup: Angeline Dela Cruz. Hair: JA Feliciano, Mong Amado. Talents: Ann Dumaliang, Bella Tanjutco, Billie Dumaliang, Camille Rivera, Issa Barte, Nicola Sebastian, Tasha Tanjutco. Art Director: Jann Pascua. Producers: Anz Hizon, Bianca Zaragoza. Multimedia Artist: Gabbi Constantino. Production Assistant: Bianca Custodio, Patricia Co, Patricia Villoria, Tinkerbell Poblete. Photographer’s Assistants: Aaron Carlos, Choi Narciso, Mark Tijano, Odan Juan, Sela Gonzales, Rojan Maguyon. Stylist’s Assistants: Giselle Barnachea, Neil De Guzman, Ticia Almazan. Makeup Assistant: Jian Santos. Hair Assistants: Kyle Denzel Celis, Marjorie Caballos. Shot on location at Masungi Georeserve.

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